The text from Galatians 6:4 has been requested for a short Bible study, specifically looking at what sense one make “take pride in himself”. So, let’s begin and jump right into this text.
HAVE PRIDE? GALATIANS 6:4
Galatians 6:4 (NASB95) — 4 But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another.
Galatians 6:4 (CSB) — 4 Let each person examine his own work, and then he can take pride in himself alone, and not compare himself with someone else.
Galatians 6:4 (NET) — 4 Let each one examine his own work. Then he can take pride in himself and not compare himself with someone else.
OUTLINE OF GALATIANS
A. Salutation (1:1–5)
B. The Reason for the Letter (1:6–9)
C. Transition (1:10)
First Discourse on Paul’s Defense of His Apostleship (1:11–2:21):
A. Thesis: Paul’s Gospel Received Directly From God (1:11, 12)
B. Paul’s Personal History (1:13–24)
C. Paul’s Relationship to the Other Apostles (2:1–21)
Second Discourse on Paul’s Defense of the Gospel (3:1–4:31):
A. The Doctrinal Issue: Faith or Works (3:1–5)
B. The Doctrinal Argument (3:6–4:7)
C. Paul’s Appeal to the Galatians (4:8–31)
Third Discourse on Paul’s Call to Godly Living (5:1–6:10):
A. Summary and Transition (5:1)
B. The Danger of Falling From Grace (5:2–12)
C. Life in the Spirit (5:13–26)
1c. Liberty is not license (5:13–18)
2c. The works of the flesh (5:19–21)
3c. The fruit of the Spirit (5:22–26)
D. Two Practical Exhortations (6:1–10)
1d. Bearing each other’s burdens (6:1–5)
2d. The use of money (6:6–10)
For those of you who are more familiar with Galatians, you may move on to the next section, and for those of you who are in a hurry, you may skip down to the “short answer“, but the way in which Paul builds the theology of this letter is vital to understanding what he means in his exhortation to bear each other’s burdens.
Paul is writing this letter in response to a distorted false gospel that was troubling the Christian community in Galatia. His purpose is to defend the gospel that has been once and for all delivered to the saints by Jesus Christ through his apostles. This distorted gospel puts the emphasis of salvation on human goodness because it has human origins rather than the divine origins of the apostolic gospel.
The central doctrine of Christian theology is the primacy of personal faith: the Holy Spirit is received and operates through faith (3:2-5), which results in righteousness before God (3:6) and spiritual adoption based on faith (3:7).
Paul then appeals to the Christians in Galatia based on this gospel not to come under any kind of spiritual bondage to man (4:17), but to stand firm in their Christian liberty (5:1). He warns them of the consequences for unfaithfulness (5:1-12), and reminds them that true Christian living is carried out by the kind of faith that operates through love (5:6). Therefore, they must guard their liberty from deception (5:13), walk in unity as brothers and sisters (5:14-15), and live their life by the Holy Spirit of promise (5:16) by whom the eternal fruits of the Spirit are brought to fruition (5:22-24).
This setting brings us to the final two exhortations that Paul gives based on these principles to the Christians in Galatia: first, to exercise true unity by bearing each other’s burdens (6:1-5); second, how to guard these things by using one’s wealth for eternal purposes (6:6-10). Paul’s final remarks are meant to function as exclamation marks for each of these main points (6:11-18).
Therefore, our focus will be found at the end of the first exhortation to one of the practical expressions of the gospel that is based on faith, rooted in Christian liberty and unity, and expressed by love through the Spirit of Christ. That sentence is pretty dense, so it might be worth reading a few times just to make sure we properly orient ourselves in Paul’s letter to Galatia.
LOVE AND UNITY: GALATIANS 6:1-15
Galatians 6:1–5 (CSB) — 1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is overtaken in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual, restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so that you also won’t be tempted. 2 Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 Let each person examine his own work, and then he can take pride in himself alone, and not compare himself with someone else. 5 For each person will have to carry his own load.
One could very easily mistake Paul’s severe warnings earlier in the letter for the idea that sin should be almost persecuted in the Church; “we should hunt sinners down and (metaphorically or literally) beat the sin out of their unfaithful little hearts!” This would itself be a denial of the very gospel that Jesus preached and demonstrated with his life all the way up to the cross of Gethsemane.
Paul’s concern in this section is for holy unity. In other words, the gospel calls for love-based holiness wherein those who are found in error are restored with as gentle of a spirit as can be used with caution so that the one who is walking with the erring brother or sister are not themselves also led into error. This does not exclude what we might call “tough-love” from Christian counseling (Ti. 1:13; 2:15; Lk. 17:3; 2 Tim. 4:2; 5:20), but it does direct mature Christians to seek for the most gentle response possible for each person (Jude 21-23).
HOW TO EXPRESS LOVE AND UNITY: GALATIANS 6:2
Galatians 6:2 (CSB) — 2 Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Paul builds on the idea of love-based unity by teaching this essential principle for how Christians should express their new-found spiritual reality in this world towards one another.
This verse is the imperative that verses 3, 4, and 5 are developing. So, it is necessary for us to make a couple observations here before finally moving on to verse four: first, Paul’s words resemble Jesus’ exhortation for all who are weary to “come to him” (Mt. 11:28), and carries the idea that the body of Christ is meant to carry out Christ’s ministry on earth as being “the body of Christ”; second, true Christian love cannot be abstract, but is meant to be expressed in tangible ways. Anyone who claims to have faith in Christ and who wishes to live by the Holy Spirit will necessarily bear the burdens of their Christian brothers and sisters – indeed, even of their neighbors and enemies to such an extent as they are able.
We know that verses 3, 4, and 5 develop this thought from verse 2 because of their grammatical connections: verses 3 and 5 begin with the causal conjunction “γαρ”, meaning that they are subordinate clauses, while verse 4 begins the logical contrastive conjunction “δε”, meaning that it is a subordinate clause that contrasts the previous primary clause. In English you can observe these functions by noting that verses 3 and 5 begin with the causal conjunctions “For”, likewise meaning that they are subordinate clauses (which are dependent on the primary clause), and verse 4 begins with “But”, which is a coordinating conjunction that is often used to contrast clauses as well. However, you will notice that translations like the CSB, NIV, and NET obscure this grammatical construction so that it is not as easily perceived. Translations like the NASB, NKJV, and ESV preserve this structure at the expense of sentence flow.
TAKING PRIDE IN ONESELF: GALATIANS 6:3-4
Galatians 6:3-4 (CSB) — 3 For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 Let each person examine his own work, and then he can take pride in himself alone, and not compare himself with someone else.
When we come alongside one another to carry each other’s burdens, it is vital to the spiritual unity of the body that we focus on examining ourselves rather than those whose burdens we are bearing so that we do not become prideful or resentful.
Comparing ourselves to others leads to pride, resentment, and discouragement. Paul is dealing with the temptation to come alongside a struggling brother (v.2) and bear their burdens, giving them loving support, and then on our car-ride home, we begin to compare ourselves to them and think how much more mature we are than they. Or conversely, although Paul does not mention this here because of how verse two is framed, those who are receiving help from others may be tempted to compare themselves to those helping them. This will result in their becoming either “resentful” towards the one who is helping them, or being “discouraged” by their own lack of progress. These battlegrounds have serious consequences to the well being of individual Christians and the unity of the body as a whole.
By contrast to this tendency to compare ourselves among each other, Paul teaches us to uphold love and unity in the body by examining ourselves alone. When you are bearing the burdens of others, focus on examining yourself to see whether or not you are succumbing to temptation. Be alert as to your own spiritual condition. Whether you are beginning to have the same struggles as those you are helping, or, becoming inflamed with pride and other spiritual maladies. To receive help from others also requires that we do not begin to judge those who are trying to help us, as if the one with a log in their eye might help the one with a splinter in theirs. Rather, we should be content to examine our own work before God.
This takes care of explaining all but the final clause that is the primary concern of our question at hand: “then he can take pride in himself alone”.
Chrysostom observes the following about this text:
Here Paul shows that we must scrutinize our lives. We must test what we have done not cheaply but stringently. For example, suppose you have done something good. Consider whether it might have been through vanity or through necessity, or with animosity, or in hypocrisy, or through some other self-centered motive. (HOMILY ON GALATIANS 6.4.21)
Paul is referring to the kind of godly self-examination by which we are meant to judge ourselves and in which we should live with a clear conscience.
Christian teaching today often times falls short on this question because it asserts that Christians cannot live in a state of godly innocence. This doctrine is heavily influenced by Reformed theology, though the original reformers would not recognize it and would gasp if they heard the teaching being rendered in their names. Nonetheless, Christians are meant to be confident that their manner of life is approved of by God.
Paul himself illustrated this in his own life:
2 Corinthians 1:12 (CSB) — 12 Indeed, this is our boast: The testimony of our conscience is that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you, with godly sincerity and purity, not by human wisdom but by God’s grace.
1 Corinthians 11:1 (CSB) — 1 Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.
Christians should live in a state of godly innocence whereby their consciences are confident through the grace of Christ that their manner of life is approved of by God because they are walking in the Spirit of the word. When we examine our own conduct, it is not for the purpose of comparing ourselves to others so that we can appear better than them – as was the case for those who misused the law for personal pride – but rather, the purpose of examining ourselves is to please God in all things:
Ephesians 5:8–10 (CSB) — 8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light—9 for the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness, and truth—10 testing what is pleasing to the Lord.
We have been given a powerful gospel by Christ by which those who fix their eyes on him may be transformed by the Spirit of Christ with his abounding grace, and renewed in their inner-person to walk in love towards their brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus taught us how to serve those who are weaker by welcoming the weary into himself, where he shouldered their burdens and walked with them towards God; Yahweh-incarnate walking the weak and weary into his presence and renewing them in his personal-love!
One of the greatest enemies of this work is our own foolish pride, wherein we join those who taught legal justification by works in comparing ourselves to one another and boasting over those who we find to be weaker than ourselves. This is a reprehensible disposition that has nothing to do with God’s grace, and Christians are warned not to let their guard down against such pride, but to carry that pride to the cross daily by examining themselves in the presence of Christ our God and Savior.
The result of all this teaching should be that as we grow and mature in Christ, we come to a state of godly innocence whereby we are assured that we are living in a pleasing and acceptable manner before God. This confidence is not necessary to personal salvation, as the apostle John wrote, “whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows all things” (1 John 3:20), yet this simple sincerity is spiritually healthy to our lives and is available to all Christians by the grace of God.